The former England footballer Jill Scott has said she desperately tried to gain weight after being criticised for being too skinny earlier in her career, as she called for an end to body image pressures that cause some girls to drop out of the game.
She said the “sad reality” that girls leave the sport at a faster rate than boys would continue until girls were taught about body confidence from a young age.
Scott, who was part of the team who won the Euros in 2022, said unrealistic beauty standards on social media were affecting girls’ mental health and how they saw their bodies, pushing them out of football.
She also criticised the inadequate facilities in the women’s game at a grassroots level and said making “seemingly small changes” such as providing free, matching kits that fitted properly could have a huge impact on how girls felt while playing.
“When I was younger we used to get the men’s hand-me-down kits, or at the end of each season we would get a bag of kit that they had worn for the year … Obviously it doesn’t fit, it’s too big and discoloured.
“I remember putting on my first Boldon Girls kit and just feeling like I belonged to something, like I was part of something. We know that some families struggle and that’s why uniforms were invented so kids don’t get bullied for having different clothes to somebody else, so I think kit is so important,” she said.
While Scott said she was lucky for not struggling too much with her own body image growing up, she said lots of her teammates did and she still got the “odd comment” about her body.
“I was probably quite lucky in the sense that I didn’t really have [body image issues], I was just happy playing football, so I didn’t really think about how I looked. I got called skinny quite a lot of the time and some people probably think that that’s a compliment … [but] it does play on your mind.”
When Scott moved to Manchester City and she was “opened up to the public a bit more”, the pressure increased. “I remember really trying to make an effort to put on a bit of weight because I was like: am I too skinny? But I think I realised after trying to put on weight for so long that this was just how I was meant to be and that we are all just different and we can produce power whether we are skinny, whether we are a little bit bigger, and it’s just how your body works.
“Body image can be an issue for a lot of girls, especially when you hit that teenage phase, you might put on a little bit of weight or your body changes.”
Talking to her teammates helped her to not “obsess too much” about how she looked, she said. “It’s just about being strong enough to speak to somebody about it. I try and say, use the Lionesses as your role models because it should be about people being sporty, being healthy.
“And I think the world that we live in now is all about Instagram and social media, and about trying to achieve this ‘perfect look’, but I don’t think we should be judged on how we look. It’s not about how you look but it’s about how you feel.”
Scott has teamed up with Starling Bank for its “Kick On” football initiative to help to grow girls’ football by giving free sponsored kits, equipment and coaching vouchers to grassroots clubs and schools.
She said: “Starling’s motto is ‘we need to get girls on the pitch, but we need to get girls to stay on the pitch as well’, and I think that’s a really important one. When I look at dropout rates, with more girls dropping out of football than boys, that makes us sad because potentially you could be stopping the journey of a future Lioness.
“Some people drop out because they just don’t like it and that’s fine, but if you don’t provide the opportunity in the first place, you could stop a young girl from realising her dream. They might have just dropped out, not because they don’t have the talent, but because of something as little as kit.”